The year is 1867, south of Paris, France. You’re on a train for the very first time, perched on the edge of your wooden seat. As the locomotive revs and gains power, you’re moving faster than you can run. Then faster than your horse can carry you. Then faster than you ever imagined was possible. It’s an absolute thrill as you absorb the luscious scenery of the French countryside with all your senses. The landscape becomes a magnificent blur of color, texture, momentum, and flickering light.
This is how I learned about the era of impressionist painting, in a hands-on, imaginative museum called Château D’Auvers in Auvers Sur Oise, France—the town where Vincent Van Gogh lived his final days. Visitors are seated on a train inside the museum, as a film of the French countryside moves progressively more quickly from left to right on the wall, simulating new travelers’ experience during the early journey-by-rail days. It was a simple design that made a lasting…impression. Sitting on that train watching the scenery whiz by really helped me understand how impressionism reflected a new and fresh interpretation of the world resulting from the quickly evolving modes of transportation during that era.
Educational philosopher John Dewey discussed the need for people to learn by reflecting on their past experiences and thinking critically about new experiences in a personalized way. In his article “John Dewey and Adult Learning in Museums,” author David F. Monk discusses the opportunities that exist for better connection between adult education and museum-style learning.
I’m often been inspired by thoughtful, elegant designs found in innovative museums like Château D’Auvers. Along with my colleagues I’m always searching for ways to bring that discovery-style experience to adult classroom and online learning–moving away from “pouring in” and more toward exploratory learning, as Dewey advised.
Here are some ways we incorporate museum-style learning in our designs:
- Designing a user interface in an elearning course as a room to be explored, with varying levels of interactivity
- Using online tools like Moxtra that allow learners to collect and organize discoveries they make while exploring a topic
- Using a wide variety of scenarios to invite learners to draw upon experiences they can easily relate to
- Creating a “road map” learners can use to navigate their way through the exploratory options available in various learning stations around a classroom
- Designing an expert or “docent” character who can provide additional information about topics on demand
- Eliminating rigid paths for learning; instead, incorporating multiple ways to explore topics
If you have any insights about museum-style learning that you’ve used as a designer or experienced as a learner, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below.